7 Must-See Michigan Destinations for 2016

A new year brings with it a chance to visit places your feet have never taken you before. Guest blogger Aaron Cruz from The Awesome Mitten suggests seven Michigan towns that are worth a look in the New Year.

Downtown Plymouth

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Plymouth. If your plans this year are taking you to southeastern Michigan, visit this town that, while in the heart of suburbia, gives off the feeling of being in a small town far, far away. With a hand-crafted Espresso Elevado coffee in-hand, walk the downtown streets at the Plymouth Ice Festival in winter and Art in the Park in summer.  Hold hands with a loved one as you stroll through Kellogg Park in the center of town. In the summer road trip, hike or bike the 17-mile continuous park that is Hines Drive. Winter brings with it the chance to sled with the kids at Plymouth Township Park. For food, enjoy some pizza and smoked barbeque at Ironwood Grill, go for a more upscale feel and cocktails at Fiamma Grille or grab the gang and enjoy family-style dining along the railroad tracks at Station 885.

Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Frankenmuth. No town epitomizes Christmas and the holidays in Michigan more than Frankenmuth. Visit the world’s largest Christmas Store, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. Shop the stores with German themed names like Cheese Haus along the one-street downtown also known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria. Experience a specialty coffee at The Harvest Coffeehouse & Beanery. Grab a flight of beer at Frankenmuth Brewery to wash down their delicious lobster mac ‘n cheese. Looking for romance? Contact the Frankenmuth Carriage Company about a horse & carriage ride. Those looking for family fun, make a weekend out of it with the kids at the Bavarian Inn of Frankenmuth resort.

Beach in Grand Haven

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Grand Haven. The Lake Michigan coastline in the mitten offers one charming, beautiful resort town after another. The Grand Haven lighthouse and pier is reason enough to choose Grand Haven for a first time visit. Alongside the lighthouse, you will find Grand Haven State Park, which is made up entirely of beach and sand dunes with camping opportunity. As you browse the shops in the cozy downtown, get a freshly-made baked good from the boutique-styled The Bakers Wife. Experience hand-crafted coffee at Aldea Coffee in the Armory, where Grand Armory Brewery Company and Righteous BBQ also await. During summer evenings, watch the synchronized Musical Fountain and all its water, lights and music.

Beach in Oscoda

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Oscoda. The Lake Michigan coastline gets al lot of love, but the Sunrise Coast and Lake Huron showcase their own beauty like in the resort town of Oscoda. Grab a cup of coffee at the colorful Garden View Coffee Mill, then head down the street for a walk on the pier at Oscoda Beach Park.  Time your visit for the summer and you might run into their Annual Art on the Beach fair. Just north of town sits miles of sugar sand beach fun. For nature enthusiasts, head west of town along the River Road National Scenic Byway and you will quickly be in the Huron National Forest. Waterfalls, scenic overlooks, hiking trails, monuments, lumberjacks, 300+ step staircases and plenty of camping options await you. Eagle’s Nest Overlook is a must visit.

Spicer Orchards in Fenton

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Fenton. Just south of Flint and easily accessible from the Detroit area, Fenton’s motto might as well be go big or go home when it comes to its thriving food scene. Grab a peanut butter and jelly donut that is big enough for two from Crust. Head down the street for a Reuben or one of the other endless selection of humongous sandwiches at The Laundry. During the dinner hour order a large of any pasta dish at Fenton House and you’ll have enough for the whole family, with tons to spare. In autumn, mix in some cider, donuts, wine tasting and family fun at Spicer Orchards and enjoy some carnival food, apple pie and entertainment at one of the biggest fall festivals in Michigan, Apple Fest.

Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Sault Ste. Marie. The fun as we turn the calendar does not have to be confined to the Lower Peninsula. Head to the U.P. and Michigan’s oldest city. Go on a boat tour at the famous Soo Locks and/or watch from the three story observation deck as giant ships pass through the locks and canals of the largest waterway crossing in the world. Next head across W. Portage Ave. to walk along and scope out the tourist traps. For eats I recommend grabbing a burger with everything on it and hanging out at Clyde’s Drive-In. Before getting into the car watch the ferries head to-and-from Sugar Island while walking around Rotary Park.

Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Port Huron. A lot of people pass through Port Huron as they go into Canada. In the New Year, as you head towards the Blue Water Bridge, get off the interstate and checkout the international crossing from the south along Thomas Edison Parkway. Just north of the bridge visit the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse and Lighthouse Park. You’ll find beachfront where you can watch as Lake Huron flows into the St. Clair River while waving over to Canada. Staying in town, grab a sandwich, a specialty coffee and some tunes at Ravens Café. In the warmer months, walk along Quay Street and the docked boats, as well as visit the Vantage Point Farmers’ Market which sits right along the riverfront.

What other Michigan towns would you like to visit and explore for the first time in the New Year?

aaron cruz

Aaron Cruz is a lover and long time resident of The Mitten. When he is not out on the open road, he’s probably drinking coffee in a random indie coffee shop. He loves taking photos and road trips, along with checking out skylines, the seasons, shorelines and hanging around water which makes Michigan the perfect place to live. You can find him on TwitterInstagram and on his personal travel blog.

Thirteen Reasons to Run Away to Hell (Michigan, That Is!)

Hell is a place in Pure Michigan, not a swear word. So, there is no need to refer to Hell as H-E double hockey sticks. And since there is a real dam in Hell, you are not committing any sins by taking your photo in front of the falling water. Today, Barbara Braden from Livingston County Convention & Visitors Bureau shares 13 reasons to run away to Hell…Michigan, that is.  

Greetings From Hell1) Check the weather
There is an official US weather observation station here. Is it hotter than Hell, is it colder than Hell? Has Hell frozen over? More print and broadcast meteorologists have written and talked about Hell on severe weather days than any other town in Michigan and beyond. Tony Perkins (the then weather-man for Good Morning America) went to Hell and back to give his weather report. Check the guest book to see the numerous other celebrities that visited.

2) Indulge in the Crematory
Take the Grave Digger ice cream challenge at the cream-a-tory. Many brave souls have tried to finish the tempting pound of ice cream served in a miniature coffin. Oddly, winners of this challenge get a death certificate and join the ranks of the few that have lived to tell the story. To avoid the ice cream headache from Hell, try the make your own sundaes. Dip scary-named toppings like butter-snot, ectoplasm, and scare-a-mel out of an authentic coffin. 

"The Grave Digger" - Photo courtesy of Livingston County CVB

“The Grave Digger” – Photo courtesy of Livingston County CVB

3) Get Elected
Someone once said, Politicians in Hell… well it’s a good start. You can join the unofficial politicians from Hates by opting to be Mayor of Hell for a day. “His (or Her) Honor the Mayor” takes on a whole new meaning when your constituents (or is it minions) are from Hell. Politics aside, if you are the Mayor of Hell, you don’t have to keep any campaign promises.

4) Matriculate
Tired of boring scholarly types bragging about their prestigious degrees? Join the many proud alumni from Damnation University and you can laude your own credentials. You will definitely set yourself apart from the masses when you arrive in your Dam U collegiate sweatshirt. And when they raise their learned eyebrows, you can say… the devil made me do it.

5) Play Miniature Golf
Do you have friends that are continually using their “foot wedge” or claim to have an endless supply of mulligans? Well Hell is the place for those that think the rules don’t apply to them. The whimsical characters along the aptly named holes are sure to prompt a few chuckles.

6) Reach out to Friends or Enemies
Send a scorched postcard card from official US Post Office to an arch enemy and write… “Wish you were here”. Why not mail a gift to a loved one and say you went thru Hell to get it for them. Each April 15th, hundreds of procrastinators descend upon the tiny town to mail their tax returns from Hell. Can you say… audit? All mail from Hell is scorched with real fire because it’s hot down there.

Cookies From Hell

Photo courtesy of Livingston Country CVB

7) Canoe & Kayak
Explore the chain of lakes where your trip can be as short as 2 hours or as long as a full day. Sightings of Blue Herons, turtles basking in the sun, beaver, deer, eagles, and other native wild life are common as you glide alongside serene vistas. There is no need to bring your own canoe or kayak, rentals are available.

8) Dine in Hell’s Kitchen
If you are expecting HOT cuisine you won’t be disappointed by the hottest wings in Hell. Hell’s ovens bake sinfully delicious bread daily and pride themselves in locally sourced ingredients from farmers markets. Take home Smitty’s Hot Sauce from Hell to rekindle memories of your decadent dining.

9) Invest in Real Estate
Yes “Hell’s-Half-Acre” is for sale, by the square inch. You can purchase the official dirt from Hell in a small bottle that comes with a certificate of ownership. It makes a great gift, if you want to give someone a little Hell.

Photo courtesy of Livingston County CVB

Photo courtesy of Livingston County CVB

10) Get Married
On a cold day in Hell… many couples have “tied the knot” in the Wedding Chapel. Hell’s Facebook page has a gallery of wedding photos featuring the festive nuptials. Mayor Odum Plenty will perform the nuptials and even help with the arrangements. Like the Mayor says, a marriage made in Hell has nowhere to go but up.

11) Photo Opportunities
Who wouldn’t want a true “selfie” from Hell? Or there are always the commemorative departure photos under the Welcome to Hell sign. Even Flat Stanley posed with a friend in Hell. Photo buffs that like light-hearted shots will enjoy the cartoon style cut-outs that frame your face.

Hell Froze Over_00112) It’s a Punster’s Paradise
Weather it is puns or a play on words that you enjoy, Hell is an irreverent inspiration no matter where you turn. And no-one enjoys hearing your “spin” on Hell more that the friendly hellions that work there.

13) You meet the nicest people in Hell
It seems counter intuitive that you would meet nice people in Hell, doesn’t it? But it is true. I love to share the many photos of Hell’s guests because they all look like they are having a wonderful time. I have met people from all over the globe in Hell, and I hope someday I will “See YOU in Hell”.

Barb BardenBarbara Barden is the executive director of the Livingston County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Livingston County is home to Hell Michigan, which means Barden gets paid to tell people to “Go to Hell”. But she always is quick to add… she means it in the nicest way. Barden is a graduate of Damnation University and holds a Master’s degree in Procrastination.

Seven Michigan Destinations That Earned Travel Bragging Rights in 2014

There’s no doubt that Pure Michigan is home to a number of diverse, unique and remarkably beautiful locations. In 2014, a number of Michigan cities were recognized as must-visit destinations. If you’re making plans to travel in 2015, keep these seven locales on your radar. 

Michigan Theater with Couple2

Photo courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor
Last year, Ann Arbor ranked second on Livability’s  list of top 10 college towns. The ranking was determined by factors including high quality of life, cost of living and walkability. Livability gave Ann Arbor the nod for its bustling tree-lined streets, independent restaurants and bookstores, numerous bars, parks and museums, and of course the University of Michigan’s distinct presence.

Detroit
With die-hard Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons fans, it’s hard to ignore the fact that sports are serious business in the Motor City. So much so that USA Today Travel named Detroit as #1 in its 10 Best Cities for Sports. Game day in Detroit is an experience like no other. Check out these suggestions for game day excitement around the city.

Photo by Instagram user @loosecanonphotography.

Photo by Instagram user @loosecanonphotography.

Grand Rapids and Lake Michigan’s Gold Coast
Early last year, the West Michigan city earned the #1 spot on Lonely Planet’s List of Top U.S. Destinations to Visit in 2014. Grand Rapids’ art scene including the international art competition ArtPrize, award-winning craft breweries, attractions like Frederick Meijer Gardens and stunning beaches along Lake Michigan’s 300 mile Gold coast, the west-side city has something to offer a great variety of tastes and interests. Here are a few more reasons why Grand Rapids earned their bragging rights from Lonely Planet.

Holland
Impulcity shows that small town America is alive and well with their list of 19 Most Beautiful Small Towns in America, and Holland, MI proudly claimed the number two spot. Holland boasts breathtaking sights rarely seen, such as swinging windmills and fields of tulips in full bloom. After a stroll down Lake Michigan’s summertime shore, a stop at Holland’s historic lighthouse and a visit to New Holland Brewing Company, it’s easy to see why Holland is a popular place to stop and smell the tulips.

Houghton
Small, but mighty with an estimated population of 7,700 residents, Houghton, MI in the Keweenaw Peninsula was named among the Best Places to Live in the U.S. by Outside Magazine. Factors like number of outfitters, miles of trails, and number of bike shops, plus considerations like unemployment rates and median incomes helped determine Houghton’s place on this list for outdoor enthusiasts.

Photo by Instagram user @theoriginaljwin overlooking Houghton.

Photo by Instagram user @theoriginaljwin overlooking Houghton.

Located about as far north as you can get in the Upper Peninsula, there’s plenty of adventure to be had all year long.There are more than 28 miles of world-class cross country ski trails along the outskirts of town, while nearby Mount Bohemia claims the best ungroomed powder east of the Rocky Mountains, with an annual average of 273 inches and 900 feet of vertical. In the summertime, residents and visitors enjoy boating,  fishing, surfing, and kiting on Lake Superior, as well as mountain-biking on the trails at Copper Harbor. Don’t forget to try the Upper Peninsula’s delicacy at Roy’s Pasties in downtown Houghton!

Saugatuck 
One of Lake Michigan’s prime beach towns, Saugatuck earned the title of Best Summer Weekend Escape by USA Today and the number 3 spot on Coastal Living’s 2014 list of American’s Happiest Seaside Towns. Less than four hours from Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee, the town’s laid-back vibe attracts visitors looking for a place to unplug, relax and enjoy the simple things. Stroll the boardwalk, admire 200-foot sand dunes or enjoy an old-fashioned soda at  the Saugatuck Drug Store. Throw in opportunities for a great round of golf, fishing or winery tours, and you have one unforgettable lakeside getaway.

Traverse City
It was a big year for Traverse City! The northern Michigan city took home accolades from at least six travel publications. Most recently, TC was listed as one of TripAdvisor’s 10 Choice Destinations on the Rise for 2015. If that’s not reason enough to plan a visit, Michigan’s cherry capital also earned bragging rights from Travel + Leisure (America’s Most Scenic Waterside Drives – Leelanau Peninsula, America’s 20 Most Romantic Towns), Family Fun Magazine (Top 10 National Parks for Families – Sleeping Bear Dunes) and The Weather Channel (World’s 50 Clearest Waters – Torch Lake).

There are so many other Michigan cities that have received accolades of their own. For more information on popular Pure Michigan destinations visit, michigan.org/hotspots.